Scrubbing dried blood off of titanium knives was harder than it looked.
Diego had been working at it for an hour, so far, he’d cleaned three. That left nine. He paused his task momentarily when he thought he’d heard a knock on his door. He shook his head, it was after closing, no one would even be here to knock, and that was assuming someone would even have a reason to.
When another knock sounded, only slightly louder this time, he set his knife down, picking up a clean one and walking quietly to the door.
Diego opened the door slowly, saw who was on the other side, and promptly shut it again.
He turned to lean against the door, waiting for the vaguely familiar sound of shuffling footsteps to walk away.
Diego waited a minute, then two, then three. Finally, when he’d hit five minutes, a soft voice carried through the door,
“I can stand here all night Diego.”
Deciding that yes, she could, and he didn’t much care, Diego huffed and moved back to his rickety sink, once again picking up a blood stained knife.
“It’s about Klaus.”
Diego stalled. Looking at the ceiling, he called back, “What about him?”
“I think he’s in trouble.”
Her voice shook and Diego groaned, he walked back to the door, already regretting what he was about to do.
When he opened the door, Vanya was still there. He took a closer look at her and sighed, she was soaking wet and her eyes were red.
His brain whirred as it tried to come up with a word to describe the woman in front of him.
Sad? He pushed his tongue into his cheek, no, it was deeper than that.
“Why didn’t you bring an umbrella?”
“I was in a hurry.”
Diego sighed again and tilted his head into the boiler room he called home and opened the door a little wider. Vanya walked inside without a sound. She stopped above the few steps and stood awkwardly, obviously unsure of what to do.
Rolling his eyes, Diego walked past her and pulled a towel off one of the pipes. It was warm from being so close to the boiler and he handed it to Vanya, who voiced a small thanks in return.
“So Klaus,” Diego prompted, moving back to his knives so he didn’t have to look at her.
Vanya cleared her throat, once, twice, “He’s missing, and before you say anything, I know, he goes missing a lot, it’s his thing.”
“Yeah,” Diego was so close to kicking her out, “what’s different this time?”
“Um, once a month, we get together. He’s lonelier than he lets on, you know? We have lunch and I let him talk about whatever he wants.” Vanya smiled like she was remembering something he’d said. Diego’s hand slipped and he almost cut himself.
Vanya, who had never been anything but ordinary. Vanya, who was pushed to the sidelines their whole lives, who left at the first chance she got, who wrote that stupid book that spat in the face of everything Diego was, met up with Klaus once a month to make sure he wasn’t lonely .
“Anyway,” Vanya continued, “we were supposed to meet yesterday, but he didn’t show. I figured maybe he went back to rehab or got lost somewhere, but I checked all the usual places, called the bars he usually goes to, and nothing. It’s like he’s disappeared off the face of the Earth.”
She had started to fidget halfway through her explanation, Diego shrugged, “Maybe he just doesn’t want to see you.”
Behind him, Vanya let out a breath, “I know you hate me, but please, if there’s any chance he’s in trouble? I don’t know what I’d do if I lost another-” she didn’t finish. She didn’t have to.
What would they do if they lost another brother?
“Okay?” Vanya repeated, Diego growled,
“Yes, I’ll help you find him.”
To his surprise, Vanya didn’t say anything, just nodded. She looked over his shoulder at the grimy rag in one of his hands and the knife in the other, “Have you tried using a Magic Eraser and some laundry detergent?”
Annoying. Was that the right word? He thought so, it sounded about right. Almost.
Diego stopped and put the knife down, “Blood looks cool anyway,” he grumbled, and moved across the room to grab his knife holster.
Vanya watched him and Diego wanted to tell her to stop staring, stop looking at him like she used to, curious and hopeful, like maybe he’d say something to repair what had broken.
Only years ago it hadn’t been broken, just bent in a way that made everything hard. So he wasn’t the one who needed to fix things. He hadn’t written that book.
“Do you know the last place someone saw him?” Diego asked, already headed to the door.
“Yeah,” Vanya set the towel down carefully, “one of the clubs he goes to saw him the night before last.”
“Okay, I’ll retrace his steps, call you if I find anything.” Begrudgingly Diego turned to her, “Do you need a ride home?”
Vanya pulled her sleeves over her hands and sputtered a little, “I’m coming with you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Diego, if he’s in trouble-”
“Then you let the people who know what they’re doing handle it!” Diego cut her off, Vanya took a step back and Diego checked himself. Was she really scared of him?
Suddenly determined, Vanya shook her head, “Whether you like it or not, he’s my brother too. I’m going, with or without you.”
Diego felt like punching a wall. Instead, he grit his teeth, “Fine.”
He stomped out the door, probably looking like a child, and stood by the threshold, waiting for Vanya to move past him to shut the door with a clang. He bent to lock it, when he stood, he came up close to Vanya, she stumbled back.
“Sorry,” was her immediate reaction.
Scared. That could be it.
Rather than replying, Diego brushed past her and out into the boxing ring and through the front doors, luckily it had stopped raining, the only indication that it had were the puddles filling ditches and gutters in the rundown parking lot.
He glanced at Vanya as he opened his car door, “Did you bring a car?”
Diego made a face, “From where?”
Vanya just shrugged and got into the passenger seat.
Halfway to the club, the radio on his dash crackled and a staticy voice came through, saying something about a dead junkie off the canal. Vanya’s eyes widened and she looked at Diego in panic.
Trying to keep the fear out of his voice, Diego shook his head, “We don’t know if it’s him.”
Sure enough, after a few minutes, the voice was back, it sounded confused on why it was saying the victim didn’t have any tattoos on his hands and Diego let out a breath.
“They check for that?” Vanya asked skeptically.
Diego reached over to reposition the radio, “I have a friend on the police force, she makes sure they check.”
“How’d you know?”
“The last time I talked to Allison, she said you were dating someone, officer Eudora Patch.”
Snitch. How about that? Except Allison was the one who’d told, so he guessed it fit her better, “Detective Patch now.”
Vanya fell silent, and Diego was glad. Part of him wanted to stop at her apartment, let her pick up dry clothes, and another part wanted to snap at her not to ruin his seats with the water dripping off her hair and shoulders.
In all honesty, she looked kind of pathetic, sitting there, shivering and trying not to look like she was shivering. Her face was white like she was scared and her hands were clasped in her lap as she pulled at her fingers.
Diego contemplated telling Vanya to wait in the car when he pulled into the parking lot of the club, but decided she would most likely argue again and go anyway, so the less talking the better.
The clubs lights were on, the only people inside were the surly looking bartender and an exotic dancer, sitting on one of the tables and counting a stack of cash. Diego walked up to the bartender first, who sighed, “We’re closed.”
“Not why I’m here,” Diego pointed at Vanya, “she called you earlier, asked you about our brother, Klaus.”
The bartenders eyes widened when he looked at Vanya and he backed up a little, “Listen man, I thought she was comin’ onto me , it was no big deal!”
Slowly, Diego turned his head to look at Vanya, who’s head was ducked. He looked back at the bartender, tight lipped, the vein in his forehead thumping, “My brother?”
“Right! He was in here couple nights back, left with some guy.”
“Some guy?” Diego leaned over the counter, “You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Gulping, the bartender nodded, “This guy comes in here a lot, always leaves alone. Thought it was pretty weird he didn’t this time,” when Diego’s glare darkened, he pulled at his sleeve cuff, “He’s got this loan office a couple streets from here, I’ve got the address!”
Diego smiled sourly and nodded, “I’m gonna need that.”
The bartender pulled a notepad out from under the counter, quickly scribbling down an address with a pen from his front pocket.
After Diego took it, he gestured for the bartender to move closer, “One more thing.”
He socked him hard in the nose. Vanya sucked in a breath, the dancer across the room snorted.
Turning to walk away, Diego cast one more glare at the man nursing his bloody nose, “Stay away from my sister.”
Outside, Vanya moved past him to the car, Diego stuck out a hand and took her arm, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Tell you what? Some sleazebag tried to kiss me? It wouldn’t be the first time.”
Vanya pulled out of his grip, “I don’t know what world you’re living in Diego, but in mine, guys catcall me on the street, I try not to get caught walking at night and I get asked for free violin lessons in exchange for sex.” Vanya opened the car door, “He tried something, I left. End of story.”
Insufferable. Vanya was insufferable. Diego shook his head, he’d wanted to do more then punch the guy, he’d wanted to gut him. Diego pulled himself into the car, Vanya wasn’t the insufferable one. That asshole who deserved a lot more then a broken nose was.
Stopping in front of the loan office, Diego held up a hand to stop Vanya from getting out. She gave him a weird look and he pointed at the building, “See the concrete foundation? No basement. And no second floor, there’s no way Klaus could be there out in the open.”
To her credit, Vanya didn’t argue, just asked, “What now?” and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Stake out,” Diego replied. Vanya pulled her legs up to her in a crisscrossed position and nodded.
Diego wanted to ask her how her violin was going, he wanted to ask if she had gotten out of that shitty part of town with the money her shitty book made her. By the look on Vanya’s face, she wanted to ask him about his life too. Neither of them said anything.
Okay, to be fair, that one applied to all of the Hargreeves.
“Luther still on the moon?” He winced at how stupid he sounded.
“Yeah.” Vanya winced too.
Spotting a food truck across the street, Diego patted his pocket to make sure he had his wallet, “You like chili fries?”
Slowly, like she was trying to figure out if it was some kind of trick, Vanya shrugged, “I guess so.”
Diego opened the car door, “I’ll be right back.”
When he got back in the car with two paper trays of chili fries, Vanya had her wallet out. Diego shook his head, “Don’t worry about it.”
“I don’t want to make you pay for me.”
“No one makes me do anything.”
Vanya smiled, but masked it by ducking her head. Diego stuffed a fry in his mouth, “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just…” Vanya pointed at Diego’s cheese fries, “do you remember that time we all snuck out to get donuts but it was closed for refurbishments?”
Letting out a breathy laugh, Diego kicked his feet up on the dash, “Yes. Five didn’t want to go home, so he found that trashy diner a couple blocks from the donut shop.”
“Ben had so many shakes he passed out from a sugar high, Luther had to carry him home.” Her voice trailed off at the end and she put a fry in her mouth. A drop of cheese fell and hit her button up, she made a noise and tried to wipe it off, only succeeding in spreading it more.
Diego laughed and Vanya laughed with him. For a second, he forgot about their horrible upbringing and Vanya’s book, because he hadn’t heard her laugh in years.
That’s when that word came back. Sad. It still didn’t quite fit.
The moment was shattered when a man walked out of the loan office, locking it behind him. He whistled as he clambered into an old Chevy and started the engine. Diego sat upright, waiting until he was a good distance away to do the same.
Fries forgotten, Vanya tapped her foot as they watched the Chevy pull into an old storage facility.
Stopping just outside, Diego turned to Vanya, “Stay here.”
“You could get hurt, get me or Klaus hurt.”
Vanya leaned forward, “Your saying you’re going to get Klaus and fight off however many bad guys are in there, alone?”
Aggravating. Was that the same as annoying?
Grumbling, Diego got out of the car and pulled two knives out of their holsters, he held a hand out in front of Vanya, “Stay behind me and stay low. If there’s any trouble, you take cover, got it?”
The man they’d followed opened one of the storage lockers and stepped inside, Diego and Vanya followed.
Klaus was on the floor, hands and ankles tied. Blood dripped down his forehead and he whimpered when the man stalked up to him. Out of the corner of his eye, Diego could see Vanya covering her mouth.
“Hey asshole.” One thing he’d always liked about the job, the bad guys faces when they realized they’d been caught.
This one’s eyes widened and he turned like he was going to run, but spun at the last second and kicked Diego hard on the side. Diego fell to his knees and shifted, slicing through the man’s left calf. He let out a yelp and Vanya took that as her cue to run to Klaus.
As Vanya passed, the man turned to her, and a glint of something silver caught Diego’s eye. He shouted to Vanya as he hurled forward, tackling the man before he could get a shot off from his gun.
Vanya skidded to her knees next to Klaus and started untying him, not pausing when Diego twisted the man’s wrist so the gun fired through the ceiling.
Pulling a half conscious Klaus against her side, Vanya pulled at Diego’s arm, “Let’s go.”
Diego pulled the man’s wrist further, not letting go even as it snapped.
“Diego,” Vanya warned. Diego glared at her, but as his eyes traveled to Klaus, who was looking at Vanya like she was a goddess, he let go of the attackers wrist, settling on punching him once to knock him out.
The three of them rushed back to Diego’s car, Vanya pulled Klaus and herself into the backseat. Watching as Diego got into the front. The sound of police sirens blared from somewhere just out of sight, Diego spun the wheel and pressed the gas pedal hard.
“Klaus?” Vanya asked softly, pulling the damp rag away from the cut on his head. Klaus groaned and waved.
“What did he want with you?” Vanya’s voice was comforting, and it wasn’t even directed at Diego, who was sitting on the stairs across from the boiler and his bed.
Klaus waved his arms sluggishly, “-nted to know where his bro hid the money ‘for he died.”
Diego ran a hand over his head, part relieved. It wasn’t the first time someone had tried to take advantage of Klaus’ powers. He was just glad the guy hadn’t tried anything else.
Vanya ran a hand through her brothers hair and he smiled at her, “Thanks for finding me.”
“Diego did most of the work.”
It took all he had not to snort. What if he hadn’t believed her? What if she hadn’t thought anything of his disappearance? Diego didn’t do anything other then punch a few dicks, which had felt pretty good.
Attempting and failing to sit up, due to Vanya’s gentle but insistent hand on his chest, Klaus grinned, “Diego!”
“Hey man.” Diego stood and walked closer, “How you feeling?”
“Like I just got smacked in the head with a brick- oh wait!” He started to laugh and Vanya hushed him gently,
“Why don’t you get some sleep?”
Klaus reached up to pat her cheek, instead hitting her in the face, “Can we reschedule lunch?”
“Sure thing Klaus.”
Klaus glared at an empty corner of the room, “I’m not telling her that!”
Sharing a concerned look with Diego, Vanya raised an eyebrow, “Tell me what?”
“Ben wants me to tell you we love you, even if you wrote a dumb book,” Klaus slurred before closing his eyes.
Vanya looked at the corner of the room like maybe if she looked hard enough, she would see what Klaus did.
Diego looked too, a horrible pit opening somewhere inside him. He thought of what Klaus said. Did he still love her?
Better question, had he ever? The way they were raised, he didn’t really know if he was capable of loving anyone. Diego glanced at Vanya as she pulled a pill bottle out of her pocket, placing one in her mouth before shoving the bottle back in her jacket.
He’d almost forgotten about the pills.
Vanya stood and smiled, “I should go, I have lessons.”
Diego just nodded and stepped to the side so she could pass. Halfway to the door, she turned back, “Thanks for helping me.”
“I didn’t do it for you,” Diego replied, not meaning to come off as malicious as he did.
“Right,” Vanya nodded, “sorry.”
“Why do you do that?” at Vanya’s confused look, Diego gestured to her with both hands, “Apologize for everything.”
Vanya looked at the floor as Diego looked at the ceiling, he knew why. Years of being told to shut up because her opinion didn’t matter was why.
“Why’d you write the book?” Diego didn’t realize he’d said it outloud until Vanya shrugged, pulling at her sleeves.
“I guess I wanted people to know that dad wasn’t the saint everyone said he was.”
Diego scoffed, “Don’t lie to me, and definitely don’t lie to yourself, you did it for attention, for your own thirty seconds of fame.”
When Vanya looked at him, there was fire in her eyes, “So what if I did?” she forced a laugh, “How is it any different than what you’ve done our entire lives ? Always trying to impress dad? How is that different Number Two ?”
Her tone made Diego want to step back, a sudden word came to mind. Fierce.
Anger erupted in his throat and he glared, “Because you don’t have super strength, you can’t teleport or talk to the dead. When you throw a knife it doesn’t hit it’s mark and your rumors are just that, rumors! Because you are ordinary, normal, nothing!” The second he said it he regretted it. He closed his eyes, waiting for the slap or yell, anything.
When he opened them again, Vanya was at the door, furiously wiping her cheeks.
He called after her, told her to wait, but the door was already shut and Diego didn’t know what he would’ve said if she’d listened.
He slumped back onto his bed next to a snoring Klaus, his breath hitched as his brain found the word he’d been looking for.
Just like he was.
Years later, when he saw her again,, he snapped at her, told her she didn’t belong there.
Because Vanya may have shut the door, but Diego was the one who locked it behind her.